Read our take on Columbia MO’s Roots n Blues n BBQ festival 2018
Columbia Missouri 28-30 September 2018 TriFest Music Tour
Images – Jim Jacob
Words – Rob Dickens
This is a shorter introduction day. From 5 to around 11 pm, a good way to get into the site and the groove. Two stages are pumping out at the festival site in the middle of the beautiful Stephens Lake Park – the larger MO Lottery Stage and the Great Southern Bank Stage. Both sit quietly at the bottom of a gentle slope enabling great views all around. I had acquired Whole Hog passes for our group so we got to go right up front, enjoy some food at the hospitality tent and rest when time permitted (there wasn’t much of that).
First up Samantha Fish. After launching her recording career in 2009, Fish quickly established herself as a rising star in the contemporary blues world. Since then, the charismatic young singer-guitarist-songwriter has earned a reputation as a rising guitar hero and powerful live performer.
Growing up in a musical family in Kansas City, Missouri (just two hours west of here) she became obsessed with music in her early life, taking up drums before switching to guitar at the age of fifteen. By the time she was twenty, she had formed her own trio and self-released her first album.
Belle of the West is Fish’s fifth studio album. The personally charged eleven-song collection showcases Fish’s sublime acoustic guitar skills as well as her rootsy, emotionally resonant songwriting.
Los Lobos are known to many of you. More than three decades have passed since their debut album, they have accumulated multiple Grammys, a reputation as a hustling live band (I certainly can attest to the latter) and a worldwide smash single (“La Bamba”). Their powerhouse mix of rock, Tex-Mex, country, folk, R&B, blues and traditional Spanish and Mexican music is a heady one, providing something for just about every taste. Originating from East L.A. they have released some diverse music, challenging listeners with their no holds barred lyrics about conservation, immigration and a sharp view from the Mexican perspective.
The songs on the band’s new album, Gates of Gold are snapshots of experiences that multi-instrumentalist Louie Perez and his band mates have had. For the record, here is the band personnel:
Louie Perez (Drums, Guitars, Percussion, Vocals), Steve Berlin (Saxophone, Guitar, Percussion, Flute, Midsax, Harmonica, Melodica), Cesar Rosas (Vocals, Guitar, Mandolin, Conrad Lozano (Bass, Guitarron, Vocals), David Hidalgo (Vocals, Guitar, Accordion, Percussion, Bass, Keyboards, Melodica, Drums, Violin, Banjo) and Enrique “Bugs” Gonzalez (Drums/Percussion).
Lake Street Dive is a four piece from Boston MA that formed in 2004 while students at a New England Conservatory and have been touring non-stop ever since. Out front is the superb, knock-your-socks-off voice of Rachael Price, augmented by great harmonies from the other band members. The Brooklyn-based band has released Free Yourself Up this year. The personnel – drummer Michael Calabrese, bassist Bridget Kearney, Price and guitarist/trumpeter Michael “McDuck” Olson – drafted touring keyboardist Akie Bermiss to join them in the studio for the new record.
The Avett Brothers headlined this festival the previous time I was here, in 2014. Alongside Old Crow Medicine Show, the brothers have reached a success platform that not many roots acts have been able to attain. The band’s legacy dates back to 2002, with over ten albums filled with songs from happy to haunting to heartbreaking. Starting in North Carolina, brothers Scott and Seth Avett began making music as children and played gigs around Greenville, NC. After coining their weekly local jam sessions called “The Black Door Project,” this sibling partnership eventually blossomed into the American folk band we now know. Their most current album is titled True Sadness. Their gentle, effortless voices manage to evoke emotions from one end of the spectrum to the other while the show tonight was filled with style and movement.
Ben Miller Band kick-started our day. I had seen them in 2016 at Fayettevilleroots (Fayetteville AR) and was impressed with their high-energy, stomping roots mix. The band has a new album out this year which sees a re-tooled lineup, with Miller and fellow founding member Scott Leeper joined by new additions Rachel Ammons and Smilin’ Bob Lewis. Consequently, there is more depth to the overall sound with Ammon’s fiddle and vocals in particular. In totality there is also more multi-instrumental skills and gravitas, without sacrificing their signature foot stomping, homemade instrument vibe.
The Kay Brothers. These Missouri brothers formed a band saluting the music traditional to their homeland: The Ozarks incorporating old-time fiddle music, maximum family and friend involvement, foot stomp grass and country blues. Their songs are a collection of stories derived from traditional songs, in this particular case many are “songs about critters” – a sign in the crowd bore testament to this – take “Mole In The Ground” as an example. The Kay Brothers released their self-titled debut album this year. Joined by Molly Healey and Roger Netherton on fiddles as well as “Shakin’ Jake” Allen on percussion, the band swelled to seven pieces on stage. A rousing cover of Johnny Horton’s “Battle Of New Orleans” was fun.
From Austin TX Kelly Willis’ new album Back Being Blue has been out for six months. More recently she has been recording and performing with husband Mark Robison but has this year reverted to her solo career, her seventh full-length project in fact but first since 2007. She is at the end of a long tour to promote her new material, which was showcased today – original material and covers, co-writes with Robison and fellow Austinite Damon Bramblett. Geoff Queen (who I had seen play with Hayes Carll previously) on lead and pedal guitar provided some tasty embellishment but somehow the setting was a bit large for the music today – I hope to see Willis in a smaller, more intimate setting some time.
Ha Ha Tonka provided some feel-good, melodic catch-cries over dinner and much-needed catch ups with friends.
Son Volt blasted out on the Missouri Lottery stage and did not disappoint. “Dynamite”, “Tear Stained Eye”, “Sinking Down”, “Back Against The Wall”, “Bandages and Scars”, “Route”, “Drown”, “Afterglow 61” and “Windfall” are key parts of the set that come to mind. Along with Jay Farrar, the band was majestic – Mark Spencer (keys), Chris Frame (guitar), Andrew Duplantis (bass) and Mark Patterson (drums). It was late afternoon, there was a hot air balloon overhead, the sun was setting as the light turned as soft as melted butter. Unflinching magic.
A lot can change in a year or two. It was that long ago that Margo Price and her husband sold their only car to finance the recording of an album. That release did very well and the second, All American Made, even better. Now Price can count on friends, peers and collaborators of all kinds – John Prine, Loretta Lynn and Willie Nelson. She is now one of the genre’s most celebrated new artists and a ubiquitous presence at major festivals around the world. If you like top-flight country, check her out.
The Mavericks – ‘best live band on the planet’. Big call, not my words but those of two friends. The woman next to me was soaking them up for the nineteenth time – no greater testimony can be given. They certainly have won me over. Not so much by record but by their glorious live performances, tonight being the third I have witnessed this year.
The genre-defying and somewhat underestimated band keep scaling new heights – taut songs with great economy. The band is energetic and supremely watchable, you can see their enjoyment and prowess from a mile away. Raul Malo’s vocals are heavenly. The set included sultry romance, seduction, dancing band members, panoramic solos and an adoring crowd. Maybe they ARE the best live band on the planet?!
Sturgill Simpson closed the night with a few surprises. A far cry from the outlaw country band I saw two years ago with guitarist Laur Joamets spitting out lightning licks and dominant melodies. No, tonight it was a power rock foursome with Simpson doing all the guitar strutting and leading the jamming. Interestingly positioned nowhere near the front of stage, rather back in line with the band as if to make a point of solidarity. His voice is uniquely captivating as he was closing an extensive tour, ready for a break as his wife is expecting their third child. His most recent album, 2016’s self-produced A Sailor’s Guide To Earth was written as a letter to his first child, and he has gone on to garner industry-wide acclaim, an Americana Award, Grammy nominations and sell-out shows. His musical journey will really be something to watch as I suspect he will remain daring and unpredictable. I look forward to seeing this young, talented artist during the next phase.
Music Maker Blues Revue. The Music Maker Relief Foundation is a non-profit established to preserve the musical traditions of the South by directly supporting the musicians who make it. The Foundation through documentation and performance programs, builds knowledge and appreciation of America’s music traditions. Seven artists represented the Foundation here – Albert White (guitar), Alabama Slim (vocals, guitar), Ardie Dean (drums), Nashid Abdul Khaaliq (bass), Pee Wee Hayes (vocals, guitar), Sandra Hall (vocals) and Willie Farmer (vocals, guitar). A perfect start to the day.
Brother duo The Cactus Blossoms (Jack Torrey and Page Burkum) specialise in tight harmonies and adherence to a traditional sound – think an electric version of The Everly Brothers. Their acclaimed album is You’re Dreaming and their charming song ‘Stoplight Kisses’ has attracted plenty of attention. Another one of the duo’s songs, ‘Mississippi’, featured in the cult series re-boot of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks (at the end of episode three). The band has toured Europe and Australia, performed at Newport Folk Festival, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, Stagecoach Fest and the Cayamo Cruise. There was plenty of new material in today’s set (they are getting ‘tired of playing their old songs’) with an album due out March 2019. If you like a traditional, dreamy rock n roll sound with shimmering guitars, check them out.
Valerie June has produced two unique, homespun blues albums – the 2013 breakout Pushin’ Against A Stone and remarkable The Order Of Time (2017 – read our REVIEW). Her solo shows that I have witnessed, one in New Orleans and another Byron Bay Australia, have been intriguing and captivating. On this occasion she fronted a full band and the result for this listener was over-amped and did not best reflect her front porch charm.
Shorty Trombone. Shorty Trumpet. Shorty Singer. Shorty Band Conductor. Shorty Hell-Raiser. Shorty tour de force. The Lottery Stage was set alight by Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue as the hard-edged funk band employed brass-band beats, rock dynamics and improvisation in a jazz tradition. A Grammy nominee for his album Backatown, Trombone Shorty Andrews’ virtuosity and high-energy live shows deserve every rave. A must-see act anytime and today in Columbia MO he did not disappoint.
It was not easy, but I managed to capture three songs from Greensky Bluegrass who have created their own version of bluegrass music, mixing the acoustic stomp of a string band with a genre-busting attitude that I find highly appealing. They have redefined that sound once again with their sixth album, Shouted, Written Down & Quoted. Greensky Bluegrass is Anders Beck (dobro), Michael Arlen Bont (banjo), Dave Bruzza (guitar), Mike Devol (upright bass) and Paul Hoffman (mandolin). They deserve attention.
The Missouri-bred, Denver-based front man of Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats had a hard act to follow after Trombone Shorty but provided plenty of energy in a frenetic, horn-laden and gruff ninety minute set. The crowd swelled around this closing act and left the fans with smiles on their faces and music ringing in their ears.
The setting was beautiful. Two stages, no sound bleed. A line-up which was incredibly attractive. Where else can you see Trombone Shorty, The Mavericks, The Avett Brothers, Los Lobos, Son Volt, Sturgill Simpson in one place over three days. This line-up is a credit to Richard King’s sharp and professional curating abilities. Add smooth operation, super-friendly staff and a remarkably polite and knowledgeable audience.
The stage sizes mean that smaller performances face extra challenges – having a third, more intimate venue further up the hill might be an option. The cashless/cardless system worked better than I expected although my Australian credit card would not work. Now come to think of it, I could not buy festival tickets on-line with my card either, their acquisition had to be done manually over the phone which was not ideal.
My little group of Australians attending were more than complimentary, a number of them not having been to Missouri, nor Columbia nor the Roots n Blues festival before.
Thanks to the organisers for putting on another great event and being so welcoming.
Read our take on Columbia MO’s Roots n Blues n BBQ festival 2018